Al Jabá, a village of 700 people, sits in the path of a section of the apartheid wall which Israel has scheduled for construction at a future stage. It lies south west of Bethlehem, just one kilometre from the 1967 Green Line – inside the Palestinian West Bank. From the hillside one can see, not too far distant, the colony/settlements of Bat Ayn, Betar Ellit, Nahal Gavot and the monstrous Gush Etzion, all built on Palestinian land. It is no wonder that the people feel that their future is precarious.
Present-day life is hard enough. For anything but the most basic necessities villagers rely on shops in the neighbouring town of Surif. In 2000 the Israeli authorities blocked off the road connecting the two centres, in what we in Australia would call an act of sheer bastardry.* Now the people of Al Jabá must walk the 400 metres from their village along a track to where taxis wait to take them to and from Surif. On their return trip, laden with anything from gas cylinders to groceries and household supplies, they must once again negotiate the track.
*Question: why would the Israelis do this?
Answer: to make life difficult, if not impossible, for the people of Al Jabá.
Question: how can the Israelis get away with it?
Answer: because we in the West do nothing.
On the day we were there we found two small children (see photo) crying inconsolably as they waited in the sun for their father, who was struggling up the steep track, laden down with some of life’s necessities for his family. This is the face of the Occupation.
Unprovoked violence at Al Ma’sara
On Friday 21st June the village of Al Ma’sara, south of Bethlehem, held its weekly demonstration against the theft of village lands by the nearby Jewish colony/settlement of Efrat. Chanting “We want to go to our lands” in Arabic and English and bearing a banner proclaiming “Boycott Settlement Products” the villagers, numbering in excess of 200, marched towards the nearby access road. They were accompanied by a sizeable contingent of Israeli and international supporters, including a party of French visitors from Grenoble, who maintain an aid program to villagers in the Bethlehem region.
Upon reaching the road junction the protest march was met by a heavily armed contingent of Israeli Occupation Force soldiers and border police who immediately, and for no apparent reason, arrested two 16 year-old youths from the village . A day later they remain in detention. The marchers were then urged by the organisers to sit down in the road and maintain a non-violent and peaceful protest.
The commander of the Israeli troops then produced an order declaring the area a closed military zone. Almost immediately, and without warning, troops commenced to throw sound grenades amongst the assembled people, followed by successive volleys of tear gas cannisters which blanketed the area with dense clouds of choking, painful fumes. Two people were injured when hit by the cannisters. The most serious injury was sustained by Hassan Birjiyeh, a march organiser and member of the Al Ma’sara National Committee. He was taken to a hospital in Bethlehem with head and shoulder injuries which were later diagnosed as not life threatening.
Participants in the march were shocked by the level of violence and unprovoked aggression employed by the Israeli military. The French contingent (comprised mostly of middle-aged and elderly men and women) were particularly distressed to see and to experience such a disproportionate use of force. Even seasoned observers were surprised that tear gas had been used at Al Masára, where protests are always peaceful and non-violent. They wonder whether this presages an increased level of repression by Israeli forces.
The wind Al Walaja
Al Walaja village, close to Bethlehem, faces the threat of being totally isolated from the surrounding countryside by an apartheid wall which is currently under construction. When it is finished the only access villagers will have to the outside world is through a tunnel which can be opened or closed at the whim of the Israeli authorities. This nightmarish prospect is being protested each Sunday by the villagers, supported by Israeli and international sympathisers.
This Sunday, 23 May, approximately 70 protesters attempted to march from the village to the site of the wall’s construction. Before they could reach their objective they were met by a squad of a dozen border police who ordered them to disperse. They chose instead to sit in the roadway, where they were addressed in English and Arabic by a resistance leader, who emphasized the justness of their cause.
On this Sunday the Israeli troops did not resort to the use of tear gas or other violent methods of crowd control. Unfortunately for them, they were standing upwind of the demonstrators and ran the risk of gassing themselves rather than their prospective victims. One of them, “The big Russian with the red hair” – as he was described to me by a nearby Israeli journalist – appeared anxious to wreak some havoc. One of his companions, by contrast, seemed to indicate by his body language that he wished he could have been somewhere else.
Finally, the need to be somewhere else motivated the protesters to peacefully disperse. The only casualty of the day was the magnificent landscape as the bulldozers continued to rip apart the earth for Al Walaja’s unwanted and illegal prison wall.
Mabrouk Wadi Rahhal*
Today, Friday 14th May, the small farming village of Wadi Rahhal, just south of Bethlehem, held its first demonstration against the theft of its lands by the massive Jewish colony/settlement of Efrat. In particular, the villagers were objecting to the planned encroachment of the apartheid wall to within 30 metres of the village school. Regular incursions by armed settlers and Israeli troops have not previously brought forth this kind of response from the village.
It is in this central region that the cancerous growth of settlements is most noticeable. Lands annexed to various settlements have come close to splitting the West Bank in two, making a future, contiguous Palestinian state an impossibility. The Wall, both built and planned, completely ignores the “Green Line”, the previously accepted eastern border of the Israeli state.
Today’s demonstration was organised by the National Committee of Wadi Rahhal and is intended to become a regular event. It was supported by villagers from nearby Beit Ummar, together with a small group of Israeli activists and Australian, Canadian and United States supporters from the International Solidarity Movement and the Palestine Solidarity project. A notable feature was the number of school children marching alongside their elders.
The well-organised group of 70 to 80 demonstrators marched to within metres of Efrat’s present boundary, where they were met by a heavily-armed squad of Israeli Occupation Force soldiers. Leaders of the protest spoke in Arabic and Hebrew, announcing the peaceful and non-violent nature of the demonstration and appealing to the troops not to initiate a violent response. An international activist, speaking on behalf of the ISM, PSP and Israeli supporters present, affirmed their solidarity with the Palestinian people, who have endured 43 years of military occupation and called for three cheers for a Free Palestine. The demonstrators then dispersed, with no casualties suffered, ending a successful, peaceful and non-violent demonstration.
* “Mabrouk” is an Arabic term, meaning “Congratulations”.
My most recent blog from Occupied Palestine can be found by clicking on the link:http://rememberpalestine.blogspot.com.
I hope you find it of interest.